The Don of Donations: Learning Lessons for Legacy Status

October 17, 2011

This past week I had the opportunity to listen to a lecture by Bobby Purcell (Executive Director of the Wolfpack Club) on fundraising.  For those of you who don’t know Bobby, he is known as one of the premier fundraising experts in college athletics.  During his time at NC State, he has been involved in leading a variety of different funding campaigns that have resulted in over $100 million on facility upgrades.  In addition, his “rep system” model has led the Wolfpack Club to over 20,000 donors (four times as many as Ohio State) and over $200 million raised since he took over in 1997 (more on Bobby Purcell in Wall Street Journal article).  His approach has truly changed the landscape of college athletics and I thought that some of his philosophies could be extremely valuable to non-revenue coaches looking to enhance their programs from a business standpoint.  So, I will keep this short and simple and list “Five Learning Lessons for Legacy Status.”  Be sure to take at least one of these concepts and implement them right away.

Five Learning Lessons for Legacy Status

1.  Instinctively Invest in People: This lesson is not something that Bobby Purcell talked about in his guest lecture.  Instead, it is something that I observed in each of my interactions with him before, during, and after the talk. From the moment that I met him, I sensed that he had a natural ability to connect with people because of his humble approach to learning more about you.  Rather than talking about himself, he constantly asked questions to the people around him.  In addition, he would take notes on interesting facts that he learned about individuals so that he could remember it for future correspondence.  This approach led me to believe that he has a genuine interest to invest in the people around him.  There is no question that this is an approach that will always be effective when trying to build support for a program.  It also did not hurt that he asked my address so he could send me tickets to the upcoming UNC v. NC Football game.  When you find a way to do something special for people, you build loyalty with them that will pay dividends down the road.  At Carolina, we are taught to dislike NC State.  However, his approach has me contemplating joining the Wolfpack Club because I am a big fan of Bobby Purcell.  This speaks to his ability to connect with people on a personal level.

2.  Create Intentional Connections with Consumers: The connection starts with the commitment to invest in the people around you (see previous lesson).  However, there are certainly strategies that you can implement to intentionally connect with consumers on a personal level. During his presentation, he provided a variety of different documents to illustrate the different programs and promotional materials that they have created for potential and current Wolfpack Club members.  What struck me most about these documents was the unique ability to position them for different target markets that they were looking to approach.  More importantly, his value-based approach allowed him to identify unique marketing strategies to build loyalty among consumers.  For example, in their Wolfpacker Magazine, they have sections where they honor “Wolf Cubs” and welcome “Wolf Pups.”  When asked about this philosophy, he explained that you will never lose a Wolfpack member once you put a picture of their kid in the magazine to honor them.  These creative approaches have allowed them to create a “family culture” that fosters repeat donors.

3. Value Each Person Equally: If you want to be successful in fundraising and marketing, you must learn to value each person that you encounter equally.  While this seems unrealistic based on the fact that different people can offer more to your program, it is the philosophy that serves as the foundation for the success that Bobby Purcell has realized in fundraising.  His explanation for this approach was the following.  First, you have to always understand that a person giving $600 may be giving a larger portion of their income than a person who gives $25,000.  In essence, this means that they are giving more based on their current circumstances.  Second, the lower tier donors also have the capability to become some of your largest financial supporters when treated the right way.  So, place value in each consumer/donor and be sure to consistently thank them for their contribution.  If you have a donation system and do not write thank you notes, then you are missing the opportunity to enhance loyalty with program supporters.  This is a mistake that will cost you in the long run.

4.  Implement a Business “Rep System”:  The Wolfpack Club has created a network of over 20,000 donors in large part because of the “rep system” that they have implemented across North Carolina.  However, I recognize that non-revenue programs are clearly different so I will not discuss the specific logistics of the system.  However, I do think that the model has a major upside for programs who are willing to invest the time to create a program business “rep system.”  In my mind, this would start with identifying potential individuals who have the skill set (business savvy, strong people skills) necessary to serve as the coordinator of your system.  Once you have identified the coordinator, there could be a discussion about the structure and other individuals who can be involved in the process.

5.  Create a Campus Business Board: Of all of the lessons in this entry, this might be the one that is most intriguing for me.  To enhance campus engagement, Bobby Purcell and the Wolfpack Club decided to create a business board (President, Vice-President, etc.) made up of students from the surrounding campus.  While it would be on a smaller scale, I think that this is something that could help programs take their marketing efforts to an entirely new level.  Imagine if you created a board and were able to approach students in business-related fields to fill these positions.  With the right structure, these individuals could be highly instrumental in helping build interest in your program on campus.  This is an important enough topic that I will dedicate next week’s entry to finding qualified individuals on campus to help your cause.


The best coaches are always looking for ways to improve their program in all areas.  With fundraising and marketing, you have to constantly invest in learning so that you can have the strongest non-revenue program in your athletic department.  This week I provided lessons from someone who is truly an icon in fundraising in college athletics.  My hope is that you will take at least one lesson and immediately implement it with your staff.  As always, be sure to put this content into other non-revenue supporters (coaches, student-athletes, and stakeholders) so we can grow sports such as men’s wrestling.

“The most valuable result of all education is the ability to make yourself do the thing you have to do, when it ought to be done, whether you like it or not” (John Maxwell)


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ELSM is a company that specializes in the development and implementation of innovative marketing plans for sport organizations, businesses, and programs. By focusing on the client’s goals and expectations, we strive to develop strategies that will build the brand of the entity in a way that will ensure future success. The bottom line is that we are committed to working with entities who are looking to take themselves to the next level from a marketing standpoint. While there are a variety of strategies that we implement to achieve this, it starts with the values we have in place for our company. Here at ELSM, “Innovation is the Expectation!”
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3 Responses to The Don of Donations: Learning Lessons for Legacy Status

  1. Jim Harshaw says:

    Personal relationship building is hard when not done face-to-face. I’ve talked to many a fundraising professional that will tell you that you can’t fundraise online. I agree that there’s nothing like face-to-face personal interaction with your bigger donors but you can cultivate relationships through other means too, as Bobby has shown (kids picture in print) and you have discussed (building your brand).

  2. I would agree that there is a balance to fundraising in today’s sport industry. While the cultivation of face-to-face personal relationships are critical, there are so many creative things you can do with social network sites to engage donors (stakeholders). I guess we are on the same page here Jim 🙂 Thanks for your comment!

  3. Pingback: Adventures at the All Star Classic (Part I)… | elitelevelsportmarketing (ELSM)

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